RatedPG-13. Running time: 1 hour 34 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eye…
Lovers of the dynamic paintings of Vincent van Gogh will enjoy this painstakingly made film. It is unlike any other animated film you have seen, being the work of about one hundred artists in Poland and Greece painting in oils the 65,000+ frames that make up the film. The film’s co-directors, the husband-wife team of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, worked with a cast of actors shot against green background, whom they worked into the paintings with computer magic. The film took seven years to make it, so I doubt that you will ever see such a work again.
The slight quest story, taking place about a year after van Gogh’s death, serves as a framework for the scenes involving the artist. It is about Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of the Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), ordered by his father to deliver a letter Vincent had written to his brother Theo. Unfortunately, Theo also has died, and Armand does not have the address of his widow. He is upset when his father insists that he track down the artist’s friends so that the letter can at last be delivered to someone worthy of it.
The young man’s quest takes him to Paris and then to Auvers-sure-Oise where the artist had spent time. Along the way he meets many of the people whom van Gogh had painted. Some the artist had met only in passing such as the soldier known only as “The Zouave,” but Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) had become a good friend. As Armand encounters the people immortalized in van Gogh’s paintings and learns more about the artist, he changes his attitude. He is especially intrigued by van Gogh’s suicide, because the various accounts do not seem to make sense. Dr. Gachet describes a man who had recovered his will to live, so why would he take his own life?
It is fascinating to watch over 120 works of the neglected artist come alive in full glorious colors. By contrast the flashback scenes in which we see the artist himself are done in black and white. Outstanding in the color section in which Armand is trying to deliver the letter, of course, are “Starry Night Over the Rhone” and “Café Terrace at Night.” You can see the original of the latter in the Netherlands at The Kröller-Müller Museum, but this film allows us to go inside and sit with the patrons. Quite a thrill. The film’s title seems to have two meanings. First, it is from the way that Vincent ended most of his letters to his brother, “Your loving Vincent.” Second, I see it as an invitation for us to love this man so unloved in his time.
Today, when everyone has nothing but praise for Vincent’s magnificent, pulsating paintings, it seems difficult to understand how he was so unappreciated in his own time. * The Impressionists, also widely rejected at first, were winning a following, but van Gogh’s style apparently was too wild for the public, much as a few decades later Stravinsky’s “barbaric” music would so offend the public as to spark a riot. Hence, I’ve included above Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah as to why the public would reject him and his message—” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.” Not so Polish animator Dorota Kobiela and her British husband, each willing to dedicate seven years of their lives to bring this film to life. I can scarcely wait for the DVD version. I will add it to that wonderful clip about the artist from a Dr. Who episode shared on YouTube, as well as my treasured copy of Lust for Life. If you have any interest in art, this is a film not to be missed!
*Vincent van Gogh wasn’t entirely unappreciated during his lifetime. The myth that the artist never sold a painting, or just one, during his lifetime is well refuted in Lisa Marder’s article “The Lore: Van Gogh Sold Only One Painting During His Life.”
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the December issue of Visual Parables.